Thursday 31 March 2016

Renate at school

“Still no news from Doctor Edler?” Mrs Smith asked Mutti that morning.
She had moved into the little attic room above the Smiths’ flat a few weeks before. Uncle Ernst and Uncle Rudi had left so they really were alone in England now.
“Oh, I don’t need him,” Mutti replied. “I am a woman of independent means. I look after myself. After all, he shouldn’t mix with the Jews.”
But Renate missed her father and she knew Mutti did too. She’d heard her crying sometimes at night. She felt like crying herself sometimes. School was all right, though, except that still no one spoke to her. Not even the teachers. She really would have so liked some proper English friends. Nobody was unkind, but nobody seemed to want to include her in things.
Even school life couldn’t be peaceful forever. Miss Thompson did at least know all about Renate, even if she didn’t quite know how to be with her. When she arrived at school that day, there was no Miss Thompson, but Mrs Barlow who taught English to the pupils in the Upper School. Miss Thompson had ’flu apparently.
“Oh!” she said when she saw Renate. “I didn’t think … well … I thought maybe you wouldn’t be taking part in this lesson.”
On the blackboard was a detailed picture of an angel speaking to a young woman.
Some of the others had come in by now and had started to stare at Renate.
“I mean, doesn’t your mother mind you learning these things?” asked Mrs Barlow.
What did she think? Her mother had been a scientist, for goodness sake. She didn’t believe in all that stuff. Neither did her father for that matter, and she wasn’t so sure herself, either, though it was quite nice sometimes to believe that there was a god who looked after you and cared for you. Angels were a nice idea as well.
But if they were going to bring up now that she was Jewish… It was bad enough that they all knew she was German. She didn’t want to be different. She wanted to be the same.
“We don’t believe in all of that, really,” she said, very aware that her German accent had returned and was stronger than ever.
One or two of the others were crowding round now, staring. What did they think? She was just ordinary, wasn’t she? Just like them really, or at least, just like her friends back in Germany.
“You can sit out if you want to,” said Mrs Barlow.
Renate looked at the board. That angel really was beautiful and the girl he was talking to looked not much older than herself. She didn’t know what to say.
“Why shouldn’t she do this lesson?” she heard one of Christine’s friends whisper.
“I think perhaps she’s Jewish,” she heard David reply.
Renate turned to face them. David looked away and Christine blushed. How did they know? How did they know and what did it matter? She wasn’t really Jewish. She was German, and she was trying to learn to be English.

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